How to Form the Italian Gerundio

The Italian Counterpart of -Ing

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The Italian gerundio—what looks like aspettando, leggendo, capendo—is a quasi counterpart of the English progressive tense, combined with uses of the English present participle -ing. While English has a gerund, it does not correspond in its uses to the Italian gerundio. In fact, what is expressed in English with the gerund ("I love eating pasta," for example) is, in Italian, expressed with other tenses, most often the infinitive or the past infinitive: Amo mangiare la pasta.

So, think of the Italian gerundio mostly as a progressive tense with -ing, but with uses that are peculiar to Italian: some similar to English, some not at all.

  • Sto mangiando. I am eating.
  • Mangiando, ho imparato molte cose sulla cucina. I have learned a lot about cooking from eating.
  • L'uomo camminava cantando. The man was walking while singing.
  • Si possono conservare le salse congelandole. Sauces can be conserved by freezing them.
  • Avendo visto i fiori nel campo, la ragazza scese dalla macchina per coglierli. Having seen the flowers in the field, the girl got out of the car to pick them.

Forming the Gerundio Semplice

There are two forms of gerundio: gerundio semplice (doing) and gerundio composto (having done, being done). They are also called gerundio presente and passato, but that can be confusing since the gerundio presente can be used in past actions.

To form the simple gerundio of regular Italian verbs, add -ando to the stem of -are verbs and -endo to the stem of -ere and -ire verbs:

  • guardare (to look): guardando
  • vedere (to see): vedendo
  • dormire (to sleep): dormendo

There are irregular gerundi (plural of gerundio). For example, with dire, fare, bere, porre, and tradurre, the gerundio is made through the root of their imperfetto tense, harkening to their Latin infinitives (dicere, facere, bevere, ponere, and traducere): Their gerundi are dicendo, facendo, bevendo, ponendo, and traducendo respectively. It is helpful to have a book on Italian verbs handy to check on irregularities. Remember, a verb can have an irregular participio passato—for example, mettere (to put, to put on), with its participio passato messo—and have a regular gerundio (mettendo).

The Gerundio Composto

The gerundio composto, a compound tense, is formed with the gerundio form of the auxiliary avere or essere (avendo and essendo) and the past participle of the verb you are conjugating. You use avere for transitive verbs and any verb that uses avere as the auxiliary; you use essere for intransitive verbs that take essere, verbs in reflexive mode, verbs in reciprocal mode, some (but not all) pronominal verbs, and the passive voice. Remember your ground rules for using the right auxiliary.

  Gerundio Semplice   Gerundio Composto  
guardare guardando looking avendo guardato/
essendosi guardato/a/i/e
having looked/
having looked at oneself
vedere  vedendo seeing avendo visto/essendosi visto/a/i/e having seen/
having seen oneself
dormire dormendo sleeping avendo dormito having slept 
dire dicendo saying avendo detto/
essendosi detto/a/i/e
having said 
fare  facendo doing avendo fatto having done 
bere  bevendo drinking avendo bevuto having drunk
porre ponendo putting avendo posto/
essendosi posto/a/i/e
having put/
having posed
tradurre traducendo translating avendo tradotto having translated 
mettere mettendo putting avendo messo/
essendosi messo/a/i/e
having put/
having put on

Progression and Contemporaneity

By itself or in combination with the verb stare in various tenses, the gerundio can create a magical layering of progression and contemporaneity, in addition to providing subtleties of cause or manner.

In the Present with Stare

In the present as the main verb, the gerundio semplice expresses the progression of an action as it's happening. The stare functions as auxiliary.

  • Che fai? Sto lavorando. What are you doing? I am working.
  • Cha fa Luca? Luca sta mangiando. What is Luca doing? He is eating.
  • Che fate? Stiamo guardando un film. What are you all doing? We are watching a movie.

It is not much different from saying, with the Italian presente, lavoro, or Luca mangia, or guardiamo un film, but it puts more emphasis on the unfolding of the action. It is about the process of the action.

Same Subject, Contemporaneous Action

The gerundio semplice is also used to express contemporaneity with another verb having the same subject in a variety to tenses, from the present to the remote past and the past perfect.

  • Camminando, penso molto. Walking, I think a lot.
  • Spesso cucinando penso a mia nonna. Often while cooking I think of my grandmother.
  • Spesso cucinando pensavo a mia nonna. I used to think of my grandmother often while cooking.
  • Scendendo dall'aereo scivolai e mi ruppi una gamba. Getting off the plane I fell and broke my leg.
  • Pensando alla nonna, avevo deciso di telefonarle ma mi sono dimenticata. Thinking about Grandma, I had decided to call her, but then I forgot.

Contemporaneous Action, Different Subjects

The gerundio semplice can be used with stare to express a progressive action contemporaneous or coordinated with another action having a different subject in a variety of tenses and modes.

  • Io stavo scendendo e tu stavi salendo. I was going down and you were going up.
  • Stavo facendo la spesa quando Marco ha telefonato. I was shopping when Marco called.
  • Quando hai chiamato stavo lavorando. I was working when you called.
  • Quando tornerai starò sicuramente lavorando. When you return I will surely be working.
  • Quando tu starai dormendo io starò viaggiando. When you will be sleeping, I will be traveling.
  • La mamma pensa che stia lavorando. Mom thinks that I am working.
  • Pensavo che Luca stesse lavorando. I thought that Luca was working.

With Andare

The gerundio can be used also with the verb andare. With andare the action is incremental; with stare it is more truly progressive:

  • Il rumore andava crescendo mentre scendevo nei sottopiani della metro. The noise grew while I descended into the lower floors of the subway.
  • Mentre ero all'estero la nostra amicizia andava scemando, ma non mi rendevo conto. While I was abroad our friendship went diminishing, though I did not realize it.

Adverbial Functions

Layered into the framework of time and contemporaneity, the Italian gerundio in subordinate clauses serves prepositional, adverbial purposes. In other words, it gives us modifying information.

Adverb of Manner

The gerundio can be used in Italian to tell us in what condition the main verb occurs: screaming, crying, running.

  • Arrivarono urlando. They arrived screaming.
  • Scesero dal treno piangendo. They got off the train crying.
  • Correndo, finalmente arrivarono. They finally arrived, running.

Adverb of Means or Way

The gerundio can be used to tell us by what means or method the main action occurs:

  • Setacciandola, togliete le impurità dalla farina. Remove the impurities from the flour by sifting it.
  • Parlando, la calmerete. By talking, you will calm her.
  • Leggendo diventerete saggi. You will become wise by reading.

Adverb of Time

The gerundio can frame the time or period of the main action:

  • Parlando non si guardarono mai. While they were speaking, they never looked at each other.
  • Tornando all'alba lo vidi. While I was returning at dawn I saw him.
  • Camminando si toccarono con la mano. While they were walking, they touched each other with their hand.

Adverb of Condition

The gerundio can be used to set a condition to the main verb:

  • Volendo, potresti partire. If you wanted to, you could leave.
  • Dovendo tornare, sono partita. Having to return, I left.

Causal Adverb

The gerundio can be used to give an explanation for the main verb:

  • Non sapendo a chi chiedere aiuto, Luisa scappò. Not knowing who to turn to for help, Luisa ran away.
  • Sentendo le urla, mi preoccupai. Hearing the screams, I became worried.
  • Avendo visto tanta morte, il generale indietreggiò. Having seen so much death, the general retreated.

This last sentence brings us to the gerundio composto.

Uses of the Gerundio Composto

The gerundio composto necessitates a subordinate clause, setting the background for something else, with different or same subject. It is used by well-spoken Italians and in a lot of written Italian, but there are also simpler ways of saying the same thing, with a bit of loss of elegance, perhaps.

  • Avendo fatto la spesa, sono tornata a casa. Having shopped, I went home.

Alternatively, you could say, Dopo aver fatto la spesa sono tornata a casa.

  • Avendo visto i fiori, decisi di fermarmi a guardarli. Having seen the flowers, I decided to stop to look at them.

Alternatively, you could say, Quando ho visto i fiori mi sono fermata a guardarli.

  • Essendomi guardata allo specchio, ho deciso di cambiarmi. Having looked at myself in the mirror, I decided to change.

Alternatively, you could say, Dopo che mi sono vista allo specchio, ho deciso di cambiarmi.

In the last sentence the gerundio is causal and used in the passive voice, with essere. Indeed, in the passive voice the gerundio is used with essere.

  • Essendo la cena stata servita, mangiammo. Having dinner been served, we ate.
  • Essendo il bambino affidato al nonno, la mamma non lo vide più. Having the child been entrusted to the grandfather, his mother no longer saw him.

Pronouns With the Gerundio

When there is use of pronouns, for example, with gerundi of reflexive verbs or pronominal verbs, or if there are direct object or indirect object pronouns, you attach the pronouns to the end of the gerundio if the gerundio is alone and semplice.

  • Lavandomi i capelli nel lavandino mi sono bagnata. Washing my hair in the sink I got wet.
  • Ho rotto le uova portandole a casa. I broke the eggs carrying them home.
  • Portandogli la lettera sono caduta. While taking him the letter I fell.
  • Standole vicina ho visto la sua forza. By staying close to her I saw her strength.

If the gerundio is composto, the pronouns get attached to the auxiliary; if stare is used as auxiliary to the gerund, the pronoun moves to before the verbs.

  • Essendomi lavata i capelli nel lavandino, mi sono bagnata. Having washed my hair in the sink, I got wet.
  • Avendole detto quello che volevo dire, ho lasciato Luisa al treno. Having told Luisa what I wanted to tell her, I left her at the train.
  • Avendogliela portata (la lettera), sono tornata a casa. Having taken it to him (the letter), I went back home.

With stare as auxiliary:

  • Mi sto lavando i capelli. I am washing my hair.
  • Gli stavo portando la lettera quando sono caduta.I was taking him the letter when I fell.

Nouns From the Gerundio

The Latin gerund, from which the uses of the contemporary Italian gerundio have mostly distanced themselves, did, however, leave to the Italian a good number of nouns: among them are faccenda, leggenda, and bevanda.

Buono studio!